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Deminers return from fields of Kosovo

FIFTEEN deminers and one interpreter from the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) returned

to Cambodia on September 8 after two months' service in Kosovo.

Nhek Samorn, a MAG supervisor and also the Cambodian team leader in Kosovo, said

his team concentrated on demining high priority areas such as schools and factories.

He said it was a different experience working in Kosovo - climate, food and

culture were all alien to the deminers.

"We had difficulties all the time when we arrived because the weather was hotter

than our country during the day and so cold at night, with lots of rain," he

said.

Another problem was food. The Khmer deminers, used to eating fish and pork, had to

change their diet for beef and chicken. Fish are not abundant and pigs are not common

in the Muslim areas of the country.

Samorn said that Kosovo was still dangerous despite the presence of the NATO Kosovo

force - "K-FOR". He said in addition to land mines there were still revenge

killings between Serbs and ethnic Albanians. He said it wasn't until they arrived

in Kosovo that they really understood the political situation there.

"I didn't know about the details of the situation over there and that NATO was

trying to make both peoples cooperate," he said.

Cooperation had not begun yet and there were still small fights, however the Khmer

deminers never felt threatened.

"We never thought to take special precautions," he said. "But we brought

our working materials such as helmets and the blast shirts."

Samorn, who has eight years' demining experience in Cambodia, said his team couldn't

go out at night or carry weapons, but they were guarded by K-FOR troops.

Cambodian demining work in Kosovo was not under the supervision of NATO. The Khmer

team cooperated with Handicap International and other NGOs.

"We were altogether working for the United Nations, so we were not under the

supervision of NATO but we met NATO soldiers everywhere," he said.

When the deminers arrived in Kosovo, they got one week's special training on house

mine clearance and learned about the mines of Yugoslavia, because all the mines were

modern.

He said most of the houses and gardens in Kosovo had been occupied by Serbs who had

planted mines before fleeing.

Samorn said they had a warm welcome to the area, with locals, young and old, treating

them the way Cambodians treated UNTAC when it arrived

"They welcomed us everywhere we met them," Samorn said, adding that "I

never encountered any racism or prejudice, except between Serbs and Albanians."

During the two months' service in Kosovo, MAG deminers defused 60 mines and unexploded

ordnance.

Samorn said the mines they defused were more technical than the ones they were used

to.

In Cambodia the Khmer Rouge often used very powerful "homemade" mines and

bombs made from fertilizer, and oil.

"We didn't encounter any mines like that but we saw modern mines."

Samorn said that his team didn't defuse mines or booby-traps inside the buildings

but concentrated on those out of doors.

He said many locals came and asked for help but they could not assist them directly

because of their other work.

However, MAG personnel provided two training courses for locals, who then began to

demine their properties themselves.

"We faced many dangers for our demining work in Kosovo because we defused by

sight or using a stick to find mines," he said. The metal detectors could not

be used to find mines because the amount of metal in the area meant they gave too

many false alarms

Samorn estimated that there are one million mines still in Kosovo, which will take

at least five years to clear.

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